Montpellier, University of

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

The agricultural component of this community of universities is known today as Montpellier SupAgro (Centre International d’Études Supérieures en Sciences Agronomiques). The École d’Agriculture de Montpellier was created in 1872 in response to the viticultural crises caused by phylloxera, powdery mildew, and downy mildew in France. The first Professor of Viticulture, of a succession who built Montpellier’s international reputation, was Gustave Foëx, who established the first important collection of European (Vitis vinifera) and american vine species (V. riparia, V. labrusca in particular) and varieties. It remains the world’s most comprehensive, with more than 7,500 genotypes in total nowadays. He experimented with phylloxera-resistant rootstocks and published a guide to American vines which went into six editions. Ever since the Foëx era, ampelography has been a speciality of Montpellier. Pierre Viala was Professor of Viticulture at the end of the 1880s, when he went to the US expressly to collect phylloxera-tolerant vine species suitable for calcareous soils. Thanks to his effort, Vitis berlandieri was used to obtain rootstocks such as 41 B, which allowed the replanting of the Cognac and the Champagne regions. From 1890, Viala worked at the Institut National Agronomique in Paris, where he published a treatise on vine diseases and then, with Jean Vermorel, the classic seven-volume Ampélographie between 1902 and 1910. Viala’s successor was Louis Ravaz, who had created Cognac’s viticultural research station and specialized in research on black rot and downy mildew. He also published an important work on American vines, extended Montpellier’s vine collection, founded several publications, and was to become the first vine physiologist. From 1930, Jean Branas occupied the Chair of Viticulture of the renamed École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier (ENSA.M), and was particularly interested in vine biology, vine nutrition, and virus diseases. He published several important books on viticulture and took control of French vine nurseries. He began a clonal selection programme in the sandy, nematode-free soils of La Petite Camargue in the western Rhône delta following the experience of the world vine repository at the Domaine de Vassal west of Sète (see INRA).